Electric cars have gone mainstream. Popularized by Tesla, the legacy manufacturers are scrambling to introduce their own electric models. As a result, everyone is comparing cars like the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf to comparable models powered by internal combustion. What's the range? How fast will it go? How fast will it charge? But there is also a place in the world for smaller and slower electric vehicles—specifically, local transportation within cities and suburban communities.
Golf carts and similar vehicles have become quite popular for quick hops around town in some places. In Peachtree, Georgia for example low-speed vehicles are so popular that the town has constructed a 100-mile infrastructure of paths throughout the community specifically for them.
Because different states were creating conflicting regulations to govern them, in 1998 the U.S. Department of Transportation established a special federal classification for low-speed vehicles that are legal for road use. These vehicles are restricted to a top speed of 25 mph, a maximum weight of 3,000 pounds, and may not be driven on roads with a speed limit greater than 30 to 45 mph, depending on individual state laws.
Although the federal low-speed vehicle category does not require an electric motor, people commonly refer to electric versions as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles. You may not have heard of them, but they're already here. Currently, most electric vehicles in the U.S. are not cars but NEVs. Some of them are little more than electric golf carts. A few owners have added even rudimentary weather protection, such as plastic windows and vinyl doors, to make their "daily drivers" a bit more accommodating in less than optimal weather conditions.
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